Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Search for the Christmas Pickle and Other Great Moments

Merry Christmas! 

The first morning of the Christmas season has come and gone (and who knows how many more before I finally finish this post) and the most exciting moment may have been when the kids raced downstairs to find the pickle ornament in the tree.

The night before Paul had teased me that Sadie wouldn't find it. 

"Oh yeah, put it so low that the almost six foot tall girl will never see it!" he'd laughed as I hid it where every kid might have a chance of finding it.

"I can't put it higher than the littlest kids can reach!" I'd said, even though I doubted Tessie would actually be looking.

But when Sadie flew into the room, the first thing that she said was "it can't be above this high, because mom would never put it higher than the littlest kid could reach!" and she was suddenly circling the tree crouched down, on a serious mission to find the pickle ornament before anyone else.

And find it she did. 

Tessie believed that every present was a family gift and enjoyed the day thoroughly.

The only presents that weren't being freely shared with her were the ones that were too tiny for her to play with since she's definitely still at the "everything goes into the mouth" phase at two and a half.

She was, however, especially interested in these tiny toys, and would try to swipe them (there weren't many, only a couple) and then sneak away upstairs into the Orange Play Room to hide. I snapped this picture after catching her absconding with an LOL doll downstairs. Once she realized she was allowed to have her Catboy doll she came out and alternated between jumping on the bed and hiding under the covers for at least an hour, which is her next favorite activity.

It was also definitely a good way for her to take a break from all the noise and chaos of her brothers and sisters.

Her other favorite thing to do was stealing Bopa's chair.

Because it rocks and she realized that it rocks and she thought that that was pretty amazing.

What we didn't know at the time was that we were about six hours away from a stomach bug full out striking Tessie, James, and Maggie. But I am just very, very thankful it held off until after Christmas day.

Well I can't say that we didn't entirely know that we were starting to get sick. It is definitely one of the reasons the kids and I were in pajamas all day. I'd been feeling like I was fighting something off all week and so had Sadie. But we seemed to just manage to fight it off as the little kids completely were overcome by the bug.

Thankfully they seem to be completely recovered now.

The #1 present of the day was definitely the Scruff-a-Luvs. I can't explain the attraction but three out of five kids are obsessed.

I can say that the very best thing for these little fur covered balls of glue is to toss them in the washing machines. The kids tried to wash them by hand and they were a horrible mess and were still covered in glue afterwards. 

After a day of barely being able to keep it to myself how terrible they looked, I put them through the wash with some sheets and they look...somewhat less scruffy and slightly more loveable. At least they're slightly fluffy now.

I think that  one of the most impressive parts of the day was watching Maggie share her presents with Tessie. I knew that Sadie would be fantastic with her tiniest sister, and that her brothers would have varying degrees of success or difficulty if she mistook their presents for her own, but Tessie was mostly interested in what Maggie had. And Maggie let Tessie play with her all day long. 

She even gave Tessie some of her candy. I could hardly believe my eyes. 

The littlest member of the family was definitely spoiled with cuddles and attention and love all day long. 

And I did manage to record much of the excitement of the present opening of Christmas morning.

I think my favorite part was when Sadie and Patrick brought out the presents that they had gotten from the student store. I loved opening mine but my favorite part was seeing what they had given Paul (and each other).

And of course I had to capture the fun when we headed over to Nani and Bopa's.

There is so much room to run there, even when they're inside.

And run they do.

Tessie finally got to see her giant mermaid pillow and her reaction did not disappoint.

She took it out for a spin before she fell asleep on Christmas night. I love watching her with it.

It's so relaxing.

And this was probably the least relaxing day of my month.

Christmas parties at school kind of stress me out. Even when they end up being fun!

That is it for today. Hope you are all having a wonderful Christmas season!

Monday, December 24, 2018

A Scare and A Christmas Superstore

Before today the kids and Paul, and really anyone who'd walked across a parking lot or road with me and the kids probably thought that I was a little bit paranoid about safety.

Having Maggie with her tendency to sprint and dart and not be aware of danger sort of made me that way.

The accident a few weeks ago and that up close look at how badly a vehicle can damage a human body, even going from a stop to hitting someone a short distance away, didn't really help either.

We've talked so much about looking both ways before crossing the street in the last few weeks, and about always peeking out around the edge of the bus and being careful even if the bus stop sign is out and you think the cars should be stopped, that I've lost count how many times we've talked about it.

But we still had a very, very close call today that left all of us shaken.

Today we took a very special trip to visit a store that I've been excited to go to since we moved to Michigan. Since we moved here in 2011, that basically means I've been waiting 7 years to make the 90 mile trip to see the biggest Christmas Superstore in the world.

The store didn't disappoint. It was absolutely amazing and the kids (and grownups) had so much fun exploring it's many acres of aisles and marveling at it's delicate, sparkling baubbles.

After checking out at the end of over an hour we visited the chapel on the edge of the parking lot and looked at three beautiful outdoor nativity scenes and then made our way back to the car.

I was leading the way, pushing the stroller.

Sadie was right behind me. My mom was next to her, holding James' hand in her left hand, and Patch's in her right and my dad was a little ways behind my mom.

I am always conscious of brake lights and I've sort of trained Sadie to be the same way. My mom is exactly the same way (I come by that particular trait honestly) and she never saw them either.

Instead, without any warning a car came to life and immediately moved backwards. It was just behind me and I heard my mom and Sadie scream and I turned quickly, to hear my mom say that she'd only barely been able to yank James out of the way to keep him from being crushed.

The car slowed and looked at us and then sped away.

And it was only then that I found out that they had actually hit Sadie.

She was okay, thankfully. Her thick winter jacket had born the brunt of the blow. The worst of it, she said was that her legs wouldn't stop shaking. And by the time I was sitting in the car, mine couldn't stop shaking either.

We went out to lunch. And then we carefully navigated the way back to the car. And James and Patch were a little more willing to hold hands and a little more watchful of the still cars we walked by as we returned to our mini van.

And as this Christmas Eve gives way to Christmas Day in a few more moments I am just so, so grateful that all the members of my family are still healthy and whole and that that little accident this afternoon wasn't much worse than it actually was.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Tessie Rocking Her PECS Binder is the Best Christmas Gift

Tessie has been using a Picture Exchange Communication System book (also known as PECS) to communicate at school for a few weeks now. I went through the first training near the time when she started and then I completed the second training this last week.

On the last day of school they handed over a tiny white binder full of tiny velcro covered, laminated photos.

I'd been warned that she might be resistant to the idea of using her binder at home. 

So far the only thing she's been resistant to is the idea of fetching her binder herself, which is somewhat complicated by the fact that I have to protect the binder from a certain binder destroying mermaid at all times. 

Meanwhile, Tessie is rocking the PECS binder. She's been using it to tell me what's on her mind at all times: 

The first time she picked it up was to tell me she didn't want a bread stick right then. She wanted pizza. 

And then a sip of water. And another sip of water. 

The next morning I handed her a bowl of cereal and she handed me a strip of paper and pointed at the words "I want cup" as I read them back to her before I'd even had time to walk back into the kitchen to grab her cup. 

She was on a roll and was letting me know exactly what she needed at every turn. 

I hadn't gotten much of it on video though, until today at Nani's house. 

I know that Tessie loves oranges. She had already had three. And I realized that her binder actually had an orange card in it.

So I peeled an orange, set up the camera, and sat down to see what would happen. 

And Tessie gave the greatest demonstration of how to use her book that I possibly could have imagined. 

I thought she might have a bit of orange and then I could explain how it worked. 

Instead, any time I would start to talk about her book she would appear to be reminded that she had a book and she would race over and use it to ask for another orange slice. 

And as a mom to a kid who previously couldn't ask for anything at all it was a pretty amazing experience. 

Which is why I am elated to be able to share in this video, because the content is pretty much my all time favorite.

I am so proud of Tessie. 

And after two days of watching Tessie, Maggie who would have nothing to do with PECS when she was three is now very interested.

Yesterday she used the book to tell me she wanted a cheeseburger.

I think we might have to give this whole PECS thing another try with Maggie again too.

I have to say that I am going into this Christmas feeling pretty grateful. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Tiny Houses, Big Lights, and Lots of Parties

Today is the last day of school.

Yesterday there were three Christmas parties for Sadie, Patch, and James.  Two of those parties were at the same time at different schools, which required Nani and I to go to the parties and switch midway through. The plan worked out surprisingly well.

I was momentarily excited that next year those three particular kids would all be at the same school until I remembered that next year Sadie would be in middle school (I silently scream every time I read, write, or think those words), and the boys would be at the elementary school and so we'll basically have the same problem next year, only with different kids at different schools.

It's always an adventure in time management, but we always seem to find a way to make it work.

Meanwhile someone else was really ready for school today!
Nani took on the brave task of helping Sadie wrap small gifts for the small army of teachers, therapists, paras, behavioral technicians, and aids that helps make our world go round smoothly and do you know what we discovered?

There were over thirty of them.

It was only that low because two of the centers had told all the parents that all or some of their staff couldn't accept gifts because of ethics concerns. And the number was still over thirty!

And as I was texting this morning, trying to work out a paperwork roadblock, I realized that there were two more people that I completely forgot along the way, that I won't be seeing before Christmas.

Small army does seem like an entirely accurate description of the amazing people who have become a part of our lives in the last five years.

At least last night I finished decorating the inside of our house.

Or at least I think I have.

I finally got over the fear of things being broken that kept me from decorating for so many years.

Part of moving past that fear is that is that Maggie no longer goes around breaking things for no reason and while Tessie is growing into that talent, she can't reach most things and I've gotten good at decorating at very high levels.

And Maggie really seems to enjoy the decorations.

This year, for the first time ever, we took the lovely North Pole and Disney Villages that came from Paul's childhood out of the boxes and set them up on a counter in our back hallway.

They are in a safe place, that the kids don't have open access to, but it's been lovely to be able to take them back to see the beautifully lighted little houses and people.

And I had so much fun setting them up.

And last night, after all the decorations were finally in place, I made a video recording of what all the decorations looked like before the kids woke up and everything started to move and be played with and the house looked lived in again:

Do you know that by the time I finish a post (at least right now) it's an entirely different day than the day I started writing on?

I started this post yesterday morning. And then I worked on it last night. And then I fell asleep at some point with the computer on my lap. And here we are again.

But starting by saying that "today is the last day of school" really makes no sense anymore, except I'm not about to start over or this will never be posted.

We're on to the first day of vacation, and Tessie ran around wearing a voice recorder all day, for a study that one of the PhD students at her school is conducting, that we've done once before through a different university.  Still they wanted the data for her school too, so we're doing it again.

My very favorite autism activity of this entire month, and possibly my favorite Christmas activity that we've ever done, was this year's Wonderland of Lights at the zoo.

I remember going a few years ago with Maggie, before Tessie was born and being so stressed out.

This year was different though. There were more kids, because we have more kids, but there were also more grown ups.

And it was magical:

We also made the drive out to see the Michigan International Speedway Christmas lights for the very first time.

I think that this is now going to become a yearly Christmas event for us.

The kids loved driving through the light arches especially.

And maybe next year Tessie (who managed to stay awake for the almost hour drive to the lights) will stay awake for more than five minutes of the drive through the lights:

That is it for tonight, before I get too tired and fall asleep with this computer on my lap and miss posting for another day in a row.

I hope that you're Advent preparations are going well and that you're nearly ready for Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Of Christmas Trees and Little Victories

The last week has been more than a little exhausting as various kids have been home sick with what seems to be two different bugs (one stomach bug and one respiratory bug) and while they've been resting I've been slowly decorating the inside of the house so that hopefully, it will actually be completely decorated by Christmas Eve.

Maggie had asked and asked and asked when we would be going to get our tree and I had big plans for last Saturday (thankfully before everyone began dropping like flies to this round of illnesses).

I had read in a local Facebook group that there was a tree farm not too far from our house where they took you to retrieve the trees on horse drawn carriages. I knew that would be a big hit with all five kids. There was also an event that morning at a local city park, with a tour of their historic buildings, various historic demonstrations, and hot cocoa and cookie decorating.

So we kicked off the morning with cocoa and cookies and then moved on to finding the perfect Christmas tree, being pulled around the forty acre farm by Perchrons, which was pretty fun for adults and kids alike, and then finally heading home so that Sadie and Paul could race off to a birthday party at a local skating rink.

December weekends are busy.

This is a glimpse of our time visiting the historic cabin and having cocoa and cookies.

Maggie's language has just exploded lately. Everyone at school and therapy is so excited. And of course, we're pretty thrilled too:

Then it was time for tree hunting.

This farm was so much bigger than the places that we've gone to in the past. It was $45 for any tree on the property and so many of the trees were enormous!

It took a while to find down the perfect tree (not too big for our living room) and flag down a team of Percherons to haul it back to the car, but once we did we were ready to head home and get warmed up. It was a chilly day!

Then it was time to decorate the tree.

It was kind of amazing.

If you've been here for a long time you may remember the years when we had tiny fake trees high up on our mantle, trying to keep them out of Maggie's reach because we knew if she got to them she would destroy them.

A few years ago we thought she was finally ready to try a real tree closer to the ground, so we got a tree and bolted it onto our old TV stand, which in turn was bolted to the floor.

And when that was a success, when we moved to our house here we got a full sized tree and bolted the stand to the floor.

She left it alone, but she never helped decorate it. And I really didn't expect that to change this year.

The first year with a real tree.
We didn't realize it was a bit too tall until it was way up there and then it was... way up there.
And those ceilings were really tall.

I set up my camera on a stand because I did want to capture the memories of decorating the tree.

I did not expect them to capture Maggie joining us and beginning to pick up ornaments and decorate the tree with us.

It was such a happy, special afternoon.

And when Tessie woke up she proved that she is following in her sister's footsteps, from Christmas' years ago, when she turned into a mini tree attacking tornado.

It's okay though.

I've learned a few tricks over the years. And the lower half of our tree is basically indestructible.

And that is what's going on here right now.

If everyone would just get and stay healthy that would be great. But it is definitely the season when everyone catches everything.

I'm just hoping they're all over it before Christmas!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Basketball, Presents, and Saint Nicholas' Day

Sadie is playing basketball and whenever I see one of the pictures that I snapped this weekend I ask myself how it's possible that Sadie is old enough to be playing basketball because it seems like just five minutes ago I was posting pictures of her that looked like this:

And now she's almost as tall as me, she wore my boots to school the other day, and when I took her to a basketball camp run by the high school, she was as tall as half of the girls running the camp.

I'm wondering when she will officially pass 5 feet 5 inches tall and be taller than me. 

I'm thinking it's probably going to happen in the next year.

She's going to be gleeful when that day arrives.

Meanwhile Tessie isn't quite sure what to think about this whole basketball thing.

She thinks it's a little concerning.

And I think she probably won't be coming to too many more games.

We didn't realize, when we went to our first game, that they actually charged admittance fees for fourth grade basketball.

I think originally we were picturing something much, much smaller than the league that she's actually in (more like the soccer league that the boys are in which had older kids officiating the games, which is not at all what this is like. This is BIG.).

When we arrived at the first home game and I saw that it was going to be $3 a person, for adults and kids of all ages, all the way down to the littlest, and then I spoke with another mom who has five kids, who told me that she paid over a thousand dollars in entry fees last year for basketball games (I think my eyes probably looked like saucers), and that some of the schools charge $5 a person to get in, I began to think that we probably would be taking turns going to games and that we would take turns taking one kid at a time to see her play as a special treat.

On the weekends she has games, she has two games, and those games are at different schools, so those entry fees most definitely could add up fast.

But it has been so much fun watching her learn. 

And she has been loving it and having fun. 


In December, one of the most popular things for family channels on Youtube to do is make videos about what the kids are getting for Christmas. And I thought it would be fun to join in so that I could actually remember what the kids got from year to year. Like a virtual scrap book in video form. And maybe it could help people who need ideas.

Don't worry (people always seem worried about this), my kids don't have access to the internet on their own, so they won't be stumbling across this video and finding out what they're getting.

I know someone was already surprised because Tessie's presents weren't age appropriate.

I did get Tessie, and Maggie, and well really all the kids the toys that they would play with, rather than trying the check the "toys for girl age 2" box, so these probably aren't "typical" toys for the age ranges, at least for our littler girls. 

I am very excited to see Tessie's face on Christmas morning when she sees her giant pillow. 

I might be the only mom of a two year old is saying that this Christmas... but I think that she is going to be thrilled... and maybe a tiny bit overwhelmed when she sees it. 

With therapy and dinner and tucking the kids into bed and getting to work on editing late into the night I almost forgot that it was St. Nicholas' Day on the 6th. But I remembered just in time.

And thankfully I'd tucked the chocolate gold coins away, way in advance, so the morning was saved and I was able to share out St. Nicholas Day traditions on our channel:

Now to get Tessie to OT and Speech and then back home for early on. Even our "days off" are busy!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Adventures In Attempting To Embarrass Mom in Walmart

James has spent the last month and a half telling me that he's four years old. And before that he was proudly three.

When I accidentally slip up and say that he's three he is quick to correct me.

"That's not my number!" He says loudly. "Mama. That's not my number! I had a birthday, remember?" His voice lets everyone know that he is clearly horrified that I could possibly forget even though I haven't, he simply hasn't been four all that long and I've simply slipped into saying "three" again.

As we were walking through Walmart yesterday, picking up the last few presents that I needed to complete my Christmas shopping for the kids, he said "hi!" in a friendly voice to every single person we passed from his seat in the cart.

An older woman stopped in the Christmas light aisle and struck up a conversation with him while I was picking out lights to drape across the bushes in the front yard.

"Well hi!" she said in a voice that made me wonder if she was retired kindergarten teacher. After a few moments of banter she said "And how old are you?"

James smiled wildly and then I heard the words that completely shocked me as I picked up a box of lights and turned them over in my hand, trying to estimate how many I would need to cover all the bushes.

"I don't know!"

"You don't... know?" She sounded taken aback. Obviously this child looked like he should be old enough to know how old he is.

I glanced up.

"How old you are buddy? You're always telling me. You can tell her. You just had a birthday!" I smiled encouragingly. Wondering if our gregariously friendly child was suddenly taking after his big brother and feeling shy. Then I caught the look in his eye and realized that he wasn't.

"Nope. I don't know. I just don't know how old I am."

"You don't know how old you are?" She repeated again.

"Sure you do!" I looked at him encouragingly. He smiled back innocently.

"Nnnnmmmm. No. No idea." The child who earlier this morning had stroked my face and spontaneously told me I was a "clever genius" for helping him get dressed, who had been complemented by all the members of Sadie's IEP team for being so articulate an hour earlier, as he answered questions with words like "exactly!" and "actually..." and called me "my lady" when I buckled him into his carseat when we'd left for the store, was apparently up to something.

He loves telling people is four. He does it constantly.

"Doesn't know his age?" I heard the words murmured.

"Okay, I can help, you're this old!" I held up four fingers. The child can count. Not only does he know his age but he regularly holds up four fingers to show that he's four.

"I don't know what that number is." He said sadly, laying it on thick.

"Anyways, he's four, although apparently he's a little bit shy about saying it today!" I said sheepishly and we departed the light aisle with four boxes of shrub covering lights, leaving behind a woman who was thoroughly convinced that James had no idea of his age and probably that I was a little bit crazy, since I seemed to so completely believe that he did.

As we went to pay for the items we were buying he handed the cashier an ornament and asked if he could please have it back to hold after she scanned it. He thanked her and explained that it was an ornament of his birthday month, October.

"Do you know the day?" I asked, as I loaded bags into the cart.

"Yeah Mom, my birthday is the 13th," he shrugged. No big deal. I raised my eyebrows as we walked out to the car.

Shopping with James. It's sometimes exhausting. But it's never boring.


And in video news, we had our first snow day and it was fun! Thankfully Maggie was feeling well enough to join the other kids for the fun!